Minimize Rock Climbing Impacts
The purpose of conservation: The greatest good to the greatest number of people for the longest time.
There are around 1,000,000 rock climbers in America, which is a small population but a huge increase in the last couple decades. What used to be a very small niche sport is now quite popular and growing. As these people continue to search out new challenging cliffs and peaks to climb, there impact on the environment becomes worse.
Easily accessed cliffs quickly become noisy gathering places with overflowing parking lots, braided trails, trash, and trampled ground. More remote or more challenging rock gets impacted as well. Permanent equipment, chalk marks, and destroyed fragile vegetation can all result from climbing. Practicing Leave No Trace can help eleviate many of the problems common to climbing.
Besides the general Leave No Trace guidelines to use while visiting rock climbing areas, these special tips just for climbing can help minimize the impact you make. Since many popular climbs are in the arid Southwest, use the Desert Leave No Trace page for more information.
- Plan Ahead
- Pick a climb that suits the skill level of you and your group to minimize the possibility of injury and need of rescue.
- Use appropriate equipment that has been thoroughly checked before the climb.
- Find out about permits and practices for your planned climb. Some locations do not allow drilling or anchors, or require permits first.
- Carpool to popular locations to minimize overcrowding at the trailhead.
- Develop adequate skills in all members of your climbing party. The ability to properly use removable protection preserves the adventure for future climbers. Proper placement and use of bolts or pitons ensures a safe and minimally impacted route.
- Durable Surfaces
- If you have a group, ensure the staging area is large enough to accomodate you.
- Even though rock is highly durable, continual climbing can wear it down and break pieces off. Avoid cliff edges, cracks, and ledges that are prone to erosion, especially on soft rock types such as sandstone.
- Use quick draws where possible to reduce wear on existing permanent anchors.
- When Bouldering (low, horizontal climbing across a rock face), ensure the ground is durable so your spotters or crash pad will not destroy vegetation. Excessive removal of rocks or other landscaping to make a bouldering problem safe should be avoided. Land managers may need to implement restrictions if bouldering sites become overly impacted.
- Since most popular climbing routes have established descent trails, use them rather than rappeling the descent. This avoids leaving anchors in place. In some areas with easily eroded soil or fragile vegetation, rappelling may result in the least impact.
If you rappel, leave removable anchors tied off around rocks or trees, using colors that blend and situated where climbers can find them but they will be unnoticed by other visitors to the area.
- Do not wrap rope around trees where the friction can destroy the bark. Instead, tie a sling around the tree and run your rope through the sling.
- Campfire Impact
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Pack out worn out or discarded gear such as old webbing or discarded tape.
- Minimize the use of chalk. Keep your chalkbag closed to prevent spills. Clean up any spills that do occur.
- Human waste is a problem around popular climbing areas. You should go to the bathroom on the way to the climb so you can avoid the problem altogether. Since the soil is often thin with little vegetative growth in many arid or alpine climbing areas, the best solution is to pack out all human waste. You can create your own Pack Out Kit or use a commercial one. Burying waste results in high concentrations of catholes in a small, highly used area.
- Leave What You Find
- Use removable protection as much as possible.
- Use fixed protection sparingly. Use earth-colored webbing. Use colored bolt hangers. This will help minimize the visual distractions.
- If you plan to place any bolts, check with local land managers first. It may not be legal or it may be required to use a hand drill rather than motorized drill.
- If you are climbing a new route, avoid lichen-covered rock, vegetated cracks, and areas that require lots of cleaning. Leave the rock as you find it rather than force a route that will leave a noticable path.
- Respect Wildlife
- Critical nesting sites are found in cliff faces for many birds. Other animals use rock outcrops for shelter. Be aware of closures, both mandatory and voluntary, and follow them. Keep alert for animals protecting their home and change or abandon your route to leave them space.
- Be careful where you place your hands and feet so you do not accidentally destroy a nest or get bit by hidden wildlife.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Climb on weekdays or less popular times.
- Wear earth-tone clothes to minimize your visual impact while scurrying up a cliff face.
- Minimize noise while waiting to climb.
- Give other climbing parties plenty of room and time to climb at their pace. Or, politely ask if you can pass when it is convenient and safe.
- If you enjoy music while climbing, use headphones rather than a portable stereo so others can enjoy the area.